Three years ago I got it into my head to pop up to London and experience the annual Notting Hill Carnival for the first time so with camera and wife in tow that’s exactly what I did. At the time I was going through a phase of trying to indulge in street photography (which isn’t the easiest thing to do with a large, noisy DSLR) and being in the heart of crowds enjoying a street festival, probably expecting cameras all day long seemed like a good idea. If you like (or aren’t bothered by) close proximity to people then an event such as the Notting Hill Carnival is ideal for taking photos of people doing all manner of things.
After exiting a very crowded tube station we followed the bulk of the people as they headed into Notting Hill proper and initially set ourselves up in a spot away from the main throng in order for me to take some pictures and for my wife to calm down a little; as it turned out she wasn’t so great with big crowds of people and was paranoid in particular with anyone getting close to me on account of the camera equipment I was carrying. While there are always going to be criminals in any large gathering of people (that’s statistics for you!) our experience was perfectly fine, I’m usually very aware of my surroundings even when the viewfinder is pressed up to my eye, and there were plenty of mostly grumpy-looking police officers around to deter potential thieves.
Other people who either didn’t want to be among the Notting Hill Carnival crowds or who simply had access to a decent, elevated viewpoint took advantage of altitude to observe the goings-on on the London streets below them.
The people attending the carnival hadn’t entirely seemed very happy when we first arrived. The music was loud, food and drinks were plentiful, but there was definitely a staid look prevalent on the faces we saw and photographed. However, as we moved off a couple of times and got closer to the location of where the parade would be going through things improved somewhat. Alcohol may have played a part but there was certainly more interaction with people with cameras, more smiling, some dancing, etc.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in an area like Notting Hill during the annual London carnival. I suppose some people will love the coming together of the community and the generally happy spirit it all conveys. I suspect some people hate every moment. I think it’s somewhere I’d probably enjoy living especially having access to so many great photography opportunities every August.
I liked the Notting Hill Carnival a lot and would love to go again. I’m not sure my wife would, though. In addition to her general dislike of being in the presence of so many strangers the thing that really stuck with her was just how much rubbish was discarded on the streets. It’s understandable that with the dangers of terrorism these days bins are removed or sealed up at large events like this so I wasn’t so bothered by it all and I’m sure the organisers and volunteers do a fantastic job of cleaning up after things like this or they wouldn’t continue to have them.